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Pop Art at the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair

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  • American Studies|History
  • United States|Art History
  • Design
  • Political Science


The 1964/65 New York World's Fair was the site of the first major public presentation of Pop art. These appeared on the exterior of the New York State Pavilion designed by Philip Johnson, who commissioned ten works from contemporary artists, including four from Pop artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, and Robert Indiana. With the exception of the censorship of Warhol's Thirteen Most Wanted Men, little attention has been paid to Johnson's enterprise within the historical context of the Fair. This dissertation addresses the issue of context by examining how Fair officials, the art world, and fairgoers responded to Johnson's architecture and exhibition. Examining the world's fair as a venue for the exhibition of art for the mainstream public, this project pays careful attention to Fair President Robert Moses, whose free-market attitude enabled exhibitors to present a broad spectrum of art. This dissertation also examines Philip Johnson's role as architect of a highly popular building, as well as curator of an extramural exhibition of contemporary art that fairgoers largely overlooked. Moses and Johnson represent the split between elite and mainstream culture that had informed critical debates about art since the late nineteenth century. Moses advocated art for the masses, while Johnson proposed a heroic role for avant-garde art within the public sphere at a time when the art world's activities seemed increasingly irrelevant to the mainstream public. The Fair immersed Pop art in an environment focused on technology, entertainment, and consumption, rather than on art-world politics. At a time when many feared that automation, the bomb, computers, and other newly developed mechanical entities on display at the Fair challenged human intellectual and creative primacy, Pop failed to affirm human capabilities because it embraced mechanization---particularly the use of commercial art techniques---and established new relationships among the artist, the audience, and the art that owed more to the factory than the studio. Despite this inauspicious introduction, mainstream culture rapidly assimilated Pop, making it the defining art movement of the 1960s. ^

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